Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday gave one of his clearest signals that he intends to hold a vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination before the November election, The Hill reported.
McConnell, speaking at a hospital in Kentucky, said he would tee up Barrett’s nomination for a vote on the Senate floor as soon as it came out of the Judiciary Committee.
“I’m planning on moving to the nomination as soon as it comes out of committee,” McConnell said when asked about the timeline for the nomination.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to start its hearing for Barrett on Oct. 12. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said the committee will vote on Barrett’s nomination Oct. 22, which would pave the way for a vote on the Senate floor during the final week of October.
McConnell’s comments come as President Trump’s disclosure that he has tested positive for the coronavirus has upended Washington in the final stretch of the campaign and as Republicans are preparing to take up Barrett’s nomination.
McConnell hasn’t officially announced when he will bring up Barrett’s nomination for a vote, but Republicans expect it to come up during the final week of October, just days before the November election.
McConnell, during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier Friday, said the nomination would move “very soon.”
McConnell and Graham indicated Friday that they plan to move ahead with Barrett’s nomination as scheduled, despite Trump’s diagnosis. A GOP aide confirmed that were no plans to change the start of Barrett’s hearing Oct. 12.
“Just finished a great phone call with @POTUS. He’s in good spirits and we talked business — especially how impressed Senators are with the qualifications of Judge Barrett. Full steam ahead with the fair, thorough, timely process that the nominee, the Court, & the country deserve,” McConnell said in a tweet.
Graham, in a string of tweets, also said that any senator who wants to take part virtually in the hearings starting Oct. 12 will be able to do so. The Judiciary Committee has held previous hearings where the individual testifying, as well as some of the senators, were taking part remotely, but Democrats have warned that there is bipartisan opposition to doing so for a historic Supreme Court vacancy.
McConnell’s comments in Kentucky came after Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), one of the 12 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, said Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, but before Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a second member of the panel, disclosed he had also tested positive.
Both senators, based on timelines included in the statements, expect to be back in time to vote on Barrett’s nomination in the Judiciary Committee on Oct. 22.
If they were both absent, and all Democrats were present, it could throw a curveball into Graham’s plans because, according to committee aides, while senators can vote by proxy, those votes do not count if they would change the outcome. Republicans hold a 12-10 majority on the panel, meaning without Lee and Tillis it would be a tie.
McConnell, speaking in Kentucky, shot down questions about changing the Senate’s schedule to allow senators to remain out of Washington while they tried to figure out who, if anyone else, had been exposed to the virus.
“We’ve been operating in the same environment now since the 1st of May and been able to do Senate business. There’s no reason why we can’t continue to do that,” McConnell said.
But Democrats are urging Republicans to hit pause on Barrett’s nomination until senators are able to figure out the level of potential exposure. Several other GOP senators, including an additional four members of the Judiciary Committee, were at the White House on Saturday with Lee and Tillis.
“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more. I wish my colleagues well,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted on Friday night. “It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.”